When God closes one door, He opens another.
Like so many who lost their homes to Hurricane Harvey’s ravages in 2017, Mt. Vernon Missionary Baptist Church in Glen Flora sustained damage from flood waters forcing the congregation to close it doors.
With no flood insurance, rebuilding the church was going to take a donor – or a miracle.
“We had insurance, but not flood insurance,” Deacon Lloyd Aldridge said. “We started to go through the FEMA program. They gave us the runaround for nine months. Finally, they said they couldn’t help us.”
This isn’t the first time Mt. Vernon parishioners had been through difficult times.
“The church burned down in 2005,” Aldridge said. “But we rebuilt. 2017 Hurricane Harvey came. It was like holding on to Heaven while Hell was on our back.”
Their prayers to rebuild again were answered when church member Robbie Johnson visited with CPA Rebecca Beard Junker of Richmond in early 2018.
“On Feb. 21, 2018, Robbie Johnson came in for her tax return preparation. Her family was one of the founders of the church,” Junker said. “Her house was swept away.”
Johnson, who lives less than a mile from the church, lost the home that had been in her family for more than a century as well as the place she said her prayers.
“It was just terrible. That home was my roots,” Johnson said. “I lost all I had except for some clothes that were up high in the closet.”
Junker, who was going through trials of her own with her second bout of cancer, said she felt like God was tugging at her heart.
“I don’t want to leave this earth without doing something good,” she said.
Junker knew firsthand the difficulties of losing a home because her son’s Sugar Land home flooded during Harvey.
“He did not have flood insurance. So I understood the emotional and financial toll that a flood takes,” Junker said. “Even if they did have flood insurance and financial means, the emotional toll was great.”
Junker helped her son as well as Johnson and eight other clients whose homes had flooded. And she decided to help the congregation of Mt. Vernon to rebuild their church.
“When I went to the church for the first time, I knew that I had had a relapse of lymphoma,” Junker said. “But, I had been fortunate to get into a trial program for a new drug at M.D. Anderson that was very promising.”
Familiar with the history of Glen Flora, Junker knew the community was not a wealthy one and, Mt. Vernon founded in 1901 by Rev. S.M. Anderson, was no exception. Anderson, known to many in the Glen Flora as Uncle Sam, started it going house to house for prayer services until “Mr. Bishop” donated land for the first church in 1902.
“The church had no means for the repair because they did not have flood insurance and FEMA does not help churches, only individual homeowners,” Junker said. “The church would not have reopened without outside help. I live in Fort Bend County which has 800,000 residences. Our county received a lot of help. Wharton County has 50,000 and percentage wise had more flooded homes and damage. They did not have near the help that Fort Bend did.”
Junker began to solicit help from friends and her church family.
“Most everyone said yes. Most gave me $500 to $1,000,” Junker.
Aldridge said, “other donations came from other churches,” some as far as New Jersey and some as close as Seven Star Baptist Church in Hungerford.
In the meantime, the congregation was able to hold worship services at First Baptist in Glen Flora on the second and fourth Sundays of the month.
“We had a lot of members leave, but they’re slowly coming back,” Aldridge said.
More help came from Rev. John Lockhart, Junker’s pastor at First Baptist in Richmond who serves on the Fort Bend Recovery committee.
“Rev. John Lockhart, he made it happen. He helped with the request for Fort Bend Recovery,” she said. “His church paid for the tables and chairs in the kitchen and classroom area. He also encouraged me and told me I could do this. I did get turned down by some, including foundations and so forth, but I just moved on. It was pretty scary at first, but I felt like God’s hand was in it and he would provide.”
Lockhart was also able to secure some materials to help with the project.
“John was able to get the sheetrock and insulation from Fort Bend Recovery,” Junker said. “This was sheetrock and insulation sent to Fort Bend County by some members of the Detroit Lions. One of the team members had family in Fort Bend County.”
Even with the donations of goods and money, it still wasn’t enough.
“When John Lockhart said he would help me, I jumped right in. I didn’t intend to renovate the whole church, but I rationalized,” Junker said. “I had saved money for a rainy day, and the church qualified for that. If I did not survive the cancer, I would not need the rainy day money and, if I did survive, I would be able to make the money back.”
Renovations were going to take at least $200,000, Junker said. So that’s when she decided to become a primary donor and help oversee the project.
“We at the church knew that she was God sent,” Aldridge said. “I tell her all the time that I thank God for her.”
The church had 9 inches to 18 inches of water inside, depending on which area of the church you stood in, he said.
But not all was lost. The congregation was able to salvage the pews, pulpit, organ and some other furniture original to the church.
Junker and Aldridge oversaw the project.
“Lloyd and I were the general contractors,” she said. “We fired the first set.”
Junker set up a construction account at Lowe’s and ordered flooring, cabinets, appliances and other items. Then they hired another general contractor to oversee the labor and installation.
After several months of work, the church was able to open its doors for the first time and hold services on Easter Sunday this year.
“It’s important to have local churches with small memberships,” Junker said. “The church is the foundation for our lives. If you take a child to church, he or she may stray, but they can always come back. Pastor Mac (the Rev. C.E. McWashington, pastor of Mt. Vernon for the past 41 years) puts the young boys on the front row of this church and that’s how it all begins. The revolving prison door is not the answer.”
“If you believe in God, all things are possible,” Aldridge said. “The slogan at Mt. Vernon is ‘God has not given us the spirit of fear. But of power and love and a sound mind.’ We’ve been blessed. Not because we are worthy. All because of God’s grace and mercy.”
Junker, whose cancer is now in remission, is thankful for the opportunity to help the small Glen Flora church.
“I continually thanked Mt. Vernon for allowing me to participate,” Junker said. “The joy I receive is boundless.”
McWashington and the congregation of Mt. Vernon Baptist Church invites all to their Family & Friends Day this Sunday, Oct. 6 at 3 p.m. The Rev. L. Robertson, pastor of Greater Union Baptist Church in the Matthews Community, will serve as guest speaker.